June 27th, 2011

An Attempt at a Gold-Point Drawing

Back a couple of years ago, I wrote about making prepared papers for drawing in silverpoint:  (http://julianadeflorey.livejournal.com/4647.html) Silverpoint was the technique used by the Old Masters for many of their preliminary drawings.  It's just a silver wire in a holder or mechanical pencil to make a fine gray mark on the prepared paper, which has to have some grit to catch the mark.  My first attempts with sterling silver didn't work so well.  The points seemed so hard that the mark was scarcely visible, and the sharp points dug into the finish on the paper.  So I ended up adding ink and white egg tempera highlights to my drawings until I completely obscured the silverpoint.

I finally got around to going to the jewelry supply shop to buy some pure silver and gold wire -- after I heard about gold being used the same way as silverpoint, and lead too -- happily the wire only cost about $25 for more than enough to make a gold pencil and several silver.  I took it to work and used the dremel drillbits and the low-power microscope to sharpen both ends, one fairly sharp and one rounded.  Then I took them home, put them in the mechanical pencils, and tried them out.  The pure metals did so much better on the properly prepared paper, with real bone ash.

Last Thursday, my painting students came, and Carol brought her lovely daughter Drew, and I drew her while she drew.  That was an unintentional silly pun, but unavoidable.  Anyway.  The gold point was easier to use than the silverpoint, and made a lovely, pale violet mark, although it wouldn't let me darken her hair and eyes as much as I wanted.  Not sure if the violet color of the lines is an illusion. It must be.  Plus the pale blue paper I'd made just won't scan, no matter how I try.  But here's what I came up with:

Then this morning I decided to draw on the last piece of blue paper that I can find.  I must have lost the rest of it when I moved.  I went outside and picked a tiny little daisy and tried to draw my left hand holding it.  It was hard because I kept having to put down the daisy and scratch my nose or hold down the paper, and the foreshortened fingers were especially difficult.  I kept losing the drawing until finally the fingertips were a smudge of silver-gray, and I couldn't go any further.  So I made up a bit of white egg tempera and used ink and paint to finish it up.  It's not really silverpoint anymore but I was OK with it in the end.

It's been years and years since I first read about how to do these drawings in Daniel Thompson's The Practice of Tempera Painting. I know now that (1) his instructions are not accurate, and in fact make me wonder if he ever did a silverpoint drawing. (2) his instructions are actually instructions for making medieval copybook drawings, which were very tight, mannered, careful drawings which the masters used for teaching and transferring compostions to the gessoed board.  Yet re-reading the chapter again today, I realized how much he has influenced me, perhaps not for the better.  I don't know.  I enjoyed going back and forth from ink to tempera on the drawing of my hand, until the criss-crossed wrinkles in my nearly 60-year-old hand became a kind of satiny, textured fabric reflecting the light.